Gene expression changes resulting from social interactions may give rise to long term behavioral change, or simply reflect the activity of neural circuitry associated with behavioral expression. In honey bees, social cues broadly modulate aggressive behavior and brain gene expression. Previous studies suggest that expression changes are limited to contexts in which social cues give rise to stable, relatively long-term changes in behavior. Here we use a traditional beekeeping approach that inhibits aggression, smoke exposure, to deprive individuals of aggression-inducing olfactory cues and evaluate whether behavioral changes occur in absence of expression variation in a set of four biomarker genes (drat, cyp6g1/2, GB53860, inos) associated with aggression in previous studies. We also evaluate two markers of a brain hypoxic response (hif1α, hsf) to determine whether smoke induces molecular changes at all. We find that bees with blocked sensory perception as a result of smoke exposure show a strong, temporary inhibition of aggression relative to bees allowed to perceive normal social cues. However, blocking sensory perception had minimal impacts on aggression-relevant gene expression, althought it did induce a hypoxic molecular response in the brain. Results suggest that certain genes differentiate social cue-induced changes in aggression from long-term modulation of this phenotype.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Scientific Reports, v. 9, issue 1, article no. 14642.

© The Author(s) 2019

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This work is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch Program under accession number 1012993, by a Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research Pollinator Health Fund (Grant ID: 549049), and by the University of Kentucky Bucks for Brains Summer Research Program.

Related Content

Data will be made accessible upon request.